The Washington Post

Daughters spend more time caring for aging parents than sons

Sons limit care for aging parents because they know sisters will do it, study suggests. (Tyler Olson/SimpleFoto)

Women step up to provide care for their aging parents more than twice as often as men, a new study has found.

The new research found that in families with children of both sexes, the gender of the child is the single biggest factor in determining who will provide care for the aging parent: Daughters will increase the time they spend with an elderly parent to compensate for sons who reduce theirs, effectively ceding the responsibility to their sisters.

By foisting most of their care-giving duties onto women, men also shift the physical and mental stress of providing care, as well as the financial burden, the study’s author said.

The findings – which are to be presented Tuesday at a meeting of the American Sociological Association in San Francisco – suggest that traditional gender roles are the most telling factor in providing care for the elderly. How much care women provide for an aging parent is often shaped by competing concerns such as their jobs or children. Men, in contrast, base their care for an aging parent on whether a sister or the parent’s spouse can handle those responsibilities.

Angelina Grigoryeva, a doctoral candidate in sociology at Princeton University, found that daughters provide an average of 12.3 hours of elderly parent care per month as compared to sons’ 5.6 hours.

“In other words, daughters spend twice as much time, or almost seven more hours each month, providing care to elderly parents than sons,” Grigoryeva said in a written statement. She said the data suggest that despite a shift toward more gender equality in the United States in the past few decades, the imbalance is “acute” when it comes to caring for aging parents.

The paper, “When Gender Trumps Everything: The Division of Parent Care Among Siblings,”used data from the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study, which surveyed more than 26,000 people over the age of 50 every two years. The association said papers presented at ASA annual meetings are “typically working papers” that have not yet been published in peer-reviewed journals.

Fredrick Kunkle runs the Tripping blog, writing about the experience of travel. Freddy's also covered politics, courts, police, and local government. Before coming to The Washington Post, he worked for the Star-Ledger and The Bergen Record.

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